Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Barry Seiler

Paul Winchell Holds a Human Heart in His Hands

How many times has he made this joke? He pulls from his coat pocket a black and white photo. In it, he’s wearing a checkered sports jacket and neatly pressed slacks. Next to him, perched on a ledge, is Jerry Mahoney in an identical outfit. Guess which one is the dummy, he says. He says he’s a tinkerer of sorts. Like God, he says. But seriously. He’s held a human heart in his hands. He’s held the heart of a cow as the cow slept on a steel table. The made heart is on the table. The cow’s heart in his hands. Only a pump, he says.  And you think of the wooden hearts he placed in the wooden chests of Jerry and Knucklehead. And you think of Jerry singing Row, row, row your boat as Winchell drank a glass of water and Knucklehead swiveled his head and stared at us in disbelief.



This is the afterlife we were born for: these mobs, these doomed marching armies, these strolling couples arm in arm along a rear screen Seine. Let the stars have the close-ups, with their slender necks and outsized heads. We will survive at the edge of the screen. Today we are battling peasants. Tomorrow we are strewn corpses. The day after we are at your service. When the director shouts look menacing, we shake our pitchforks, we narrow our eyes until the set blurs. When he orders us to look defeated, we hang our heads, we shake them in disbelief. Some of us cry woe. Some of us, sensing the camera has finally found us, seize the moment, squeeze tight, and shed, as if on cue, real tears.


At the Copa

Somewhere in The Lost America of Love, Tommy Manville is at the Copa telling the old Georgie Jessel story. The place has emptied out. The papers have been put to bed. Manville buys his chauffer a drink. Call me Grandpa he says, lightly touching his gray locks, a girlish gesture, pleased with this moment of familiarity. The chauffer has never met a man so—so what?—satisfied. Yes, satisfied, that’s the ticket. Jessel gave each of the Copa showgirls the identical diamond ring—twenty of them—and somehow managed to convinced the twentieth, a naïve honey from an upstate farm, that she was the one and only. She flashed that rock at the other girls in the dressing room and nineteen girls flashed theirs back. Manville spins round and round on the barstool seeing how many circles he can make without stopping. It’s a game he plays in the wee small hours. He high signs the chauffer to haul him home. Barkeep, he calls over his shoulder, you can’t make these things up. That was Me. Georgie Jessel, the Toastmaster General.


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